Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Range

Clare Brown took her parents, Terry and I for a tour of where she does her research and work on the Louisiana State University. We started in the basement where she showed us huge freezers that house thousands of tiny test tubes full of bird muscle samples. These samples are used to find the birds DNA sequencing. Another basement room was full of formaldehyde filled jars with birds inside. That room would have made a good sketch.

Upstairs, Clare showed us her office which was a tiny cubicle. About four other researchers shared the same room. On the walls of the cubicle were hints of the exotic places the researchers travel to. On the same floor were the schools art class studios and stepping into those made me feel quite at home. The hallways were full of nude figure studies. Since it was a student break, I suspect only the worst paintings were left behind.

We then went inside the LSU Natural History Museum on campus.  Large dioramas with stuffed animals inside recreated environments from natural settings. The display for birds of the word was a tight hall where stuffed birds in flight were enclosed in glass cases. Only a stuffed owl had escaped the glass enclosure and he flew up towards the ceiling. The star attraction of the museum was a stuffed tiger. The school athletics mascot is named Mike the Tiger.

Mike I was born in 1935, he was purchased from the Little Rock Zoo with money raised by collecting 25 cents from each LSU student for a total of $750. Originally named Sheik, the new mascot was renamed in honor of Mike Chambers, LSU's athletic trainer at the time, who was the person most responsible for bringing him to the school. Mike assumed his duties as the living symbol of LSU only three days after arriving on campus in 1936. Mike was kidnapped by four Tulane students. He was not abandoned, the cage was not painted Tulane green, but decorated with green and white crepe paper. A return was negotiated, and escorted by police, Mike was returned shortly before the game. Mike I lived for 20 years before dying of kidney disease in 1956.When you press a button next to the display, Mike I roars.

A huge room next to the museum is known as "The Range". The room is filled with row after row of metal lockers. Inside metal drawers can be pulled out to inspect stuffed birds from every continent. Rachel is an avid birder so this was a birder's paradise. Terry refused to go in the range. She had been here once before and Clare showed her the stuffed Cockatoos. They reminded Terry of our pet cockatoo, Zorro, and thus saddened her. She likes to argue with her sister that cockatoos have feelings just like humans. That debate raged for our whole visit. Rachel and Joseph inspected drawer after drawer of birds. Rachel got to hold and inspects birds she had never seen before. The birds plumage remains vibrant and bright and if kept as they are they will last hundreds of years. Some specimens are already that old. They say the eyes are mirrors to the soul. These birds eyes were missing. Cotton hinted at what filled their inner void.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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